I’m going to start this blog with a quick note on general illness. If someone you love is ill with the flu, tonsillitis, chickenpox for example. Make them cups of tea, bring them water, get medicine from the pharmacy, cook them food, keep the house quiet, ask them if they need anything, look after them.
The reason I write this first is my personal experience of lack of any sort of care. I’ll always remember Christmas 2005. I got the flu on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day I was achy and ill, in the afternoon I gave up and went to bed. I spent the next week in bed as you do with proper flu. My boyfriend at the time went about his day, making food for himself, playing video games, getting out ok his mountain bike. Generally having a great week. He treated me like I had leprosy. In that week he didn’t check on me, he didn’t bring me medicine or food. Do you know how many cups of tea I got? A big fat zero. I struggled feeling really ill and got water from the bathroom. I’ll literally never forget it.
Ok, on to mental health illness. How can you look after people? Firstly treat them like they’re ill, because they are. just because you can’t hear someone sneezing or coughing, doesn’t make the illness any less real.
If they’re unable to look after themselves. Support them in doing so. Make drinks, make healthy food. Ask them if they might like you to draw them a bath. Do the chores, run the house. Step up.
Limit the questions. Being asked over and over again ‘are you ok?’ is not only irritating it’s soul-destroying. How can I answer you when I have no idea what’s going on myself? Here’s an idea of how people are feeling with mental health illness… draw a picture of a face. Now add a sad mouth. Now grab a black pen and scribble all over that face as fast as you can. Now draw a huge great black cloud over the top. Now write negative words like worthless, angry, sad, anxious, nothing, ill, pathetic all-around your picture. Now hit it as hard as you can. Now screw it up. Get the idea? Imagine feeling like that. Now times it by a million.
Sit quietly with them. Give them a hug. Hold their hand. Don’t ask questions and don’t press them to talk. But let them know that when they’re ready to talk you’ll be there.
For people who are angry and upset, give them space. Create a calming environment. Limit stimulus. Keep the house quiet. Go out for a few hours to give them space. Try to get them outside into nature or even just in the garden. Some fresh air, a change of scenery and nature really helps anger.
Ask them if they need any extra medication and make sure they’re taking what they should.
If you’re really worried about someone’s mental state call the doctor. Don’t hesitate. Reach out for help.
It’s really tough looking after someone with mental illness. You’ll get shouted at, ranted at, you’ll miss the real person and wonder who is this upset, lethargic ghost living in your house. Please stay strong. Don’t give up on them. They need you more than they’ll ever say. They’ll be back soon, but you need to step up and help them to get better. It’s incredibly important that you also look after yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.